Senate Bill 298, which amends Ind. Code § 32-29-8, creates a new section: 4. The legislation responds to the Indiana Supreme Court’s opinion in Citizens State Bank of New Castle v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. and the Court of Appeals’ holding in Deutche Bank v. Mark Dill Plumbing. The amendments hit on technical subjects related to Indiana’s strict foreclosure remedy and doctrine of merger. The practical effect is a solution to problems associated with junior liens missed during the foreclosure process.
Citizens and Deutche revised. These are dense topics tough to cover in a single post. For background, please read my 10-07-11 and 07-20-09 posts on Citizens and Deutche, respectively. In Citizens, the Supreme Court applied the doctrine of merger and permitted the omitted junior lien holder to leap frog into a senior priority position. In Deutche, the Court of Appeals concluded there was no merger (leap frog) and discussed remedies for the post-sale title defect. With the new Section 4, it appears that the Citizens merger (and leap frog) would not have occurred. The result in Deutche also would have been different because courts now have a statutory road map for dealing with the aftermath of a foreclosure suit that improperly excluded a junior lien holder.
Section 4. The new statute appears to be effective immediately and can be found at this link: Section 4. Here are the highlights as I read them:
A. Applicable parties: Section 4 applies to two groups, defined as “interested persons” and “omitted parties.” An “interested person,” which I’ll label a “Buyer,” basically includes (1) plaintiff mortgagees, (2) purchasers at a sheriff’s sale or (3) assignees of (1) or (2). An “omitted party,” which I’ll call a “Junior Lienor,” essentially is a junior lien holder improperly omitted from foreclosure proceedings .
B. New cause of action: “At any time” after the entry of a foreclosure judgment, either the Buyer or the Junior Lienor can file an action, the purposes of which are (1) to determine the extent of a Junior Lienor’s lien and (2) to terminate such lien on the mortgaged property sold at a sheriff’s sale. Generally, the action – a lawsuit – is a statutory strict foreclosure case, though the statute does not use that terminology.
C. Junior Lienor’s right to payment: If a Junior Lienor had a right to receive any proceeds from the sheriff’s sale, its lien cannot be terminated until the Junior Lienor is paid for such losses. (The statute does not spell out who must pay. For now, I’ll simply note that sheriff’s sale surpluses are incredibly rare due to the absence of equity in most foreclosed-upon real estate.)
D. Junior Lienor’s right to purchase: There are three key factors a court must consider when determining a Junior Lienor’s right of redemption in the strict foreclosure action. (The “redemption” language used in Section 4 refers to a Junior Lienor’s right to pay off the Buyer and thus acquire title to the property.) Here are the factors: (1) whether the Junior Lienor had actual knowledge of the foreclosure proceedings and an opportunity to intervene, (2) the value of any post-sale improvements made by the Buyer to the property and (3) the amount of the post-sale taxes and interest paid by the Buyer. Factor (1) seems to provide a basis for the right of redemption to be terminated outright, and factors (2) and (3) help make the Buyer whole for any ownership-related carrying costs incurred.
E. Junior lien terminated: If the court concludes the Junior Lienor was entitled to redeem, then the amount the Junior Lienor must pay for redemption cannot be less than the sheriff’s sale price plus statutory interest (8%). (The court also must consider the factors in (D) when determining the amount the Junior Lienor must pay.) The Junior Lienor has ninety days to submit the payoff. If the Junior Lienor does not submit such payment, then the Junior Lienor’s rights will be terminated without compensation, just as they would have been in the foreclosure process.
F. Anti-merger statute: Section 4 specifically provides that there is no merger of the senior lien and title to the property until a Junior Lienor’s interest is terminated. This new legislation appears to resolve many uncertainties surrounding Indiana’s common law doctrine of merger. Thus the Buyer, which presumes that it’s acquiring title free and clear, has protections it did not previously have.
G. Other Buyer safeguards: Section 4 also states that the Buyer’s senior interest in the property cannot be denied even if the Buyer had (1) had actual or constructive notice of the Junior Lienor’s interest, (2) been negligent in examining county title records, (3) been engaged in the business of lending or (4) obtained a title insurance policy commitment. This language constitutes a preemptive strike against any defenses to the strict foreclosure action, and without these carve outs Section 4 would be meaningless.
I’m planning a follow-up post to identify some holes in SB 298. For today, it’s important for secured lenders and other lien holders to know that Indiana now has a statutory method to clear up title when a buyer learns that a junior lien survived a sheriff’s sale. While Section 4 is not perfect, I agree with my partner Tom Dinwiddie that this was a necessary and fair bill that protects both buyers and junior lien holders.